Which Type of Nail Gun or Nailer Do You Need for the Job?

Updated on April 15, 2019

Ahh…the good old claw hammer. Such a wonderfully ubiquitous construction tool. Especially if you’re just putting up a picture on the wall, doing a quick repair on something, or just venting your frustration.

But seriously, if the job is more involved, and you’ll be hammering away until you’ve got a headache, you’ll really want to get a nail gun or nailer. Not only does a nail gun save you a hell of a lot of time, you’ll save yourself the headache as well. Instead of multiple taps to get than nail in, you’ll need only one from the nail gun—pow!—and it’s in.

There are two types of firing mechanisms in a nail gun:

  • One is dual-contact firing, where the nail will fire as long as you hold down the trigger and press the nosing against the work. This allows you to fire a nail, move to the next spot and continue with a series of nails without having to release and re-press the trigger each time.
  • The other is sequential firing, which is a bit safer. This requires that you release the trigger first, before each nail is fired. The nosing must be pressed onto the work before the trigger will function. Improvements in safety of nail guns is ongoing.

Below, you'll find a list of different types of nail guns you might choose, and a description of what each one is good for.

Framing Nailers

Let’s start with the heaviest duty nailer..the framing nailer.

  • As the name suggests, this type of nailer is used for wood framing in a building and heavy construction.
  • This type frequently requires up to 3½” nails to join 2x4s.
  • Heavy-duty is the order of the day.
  • All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

Porter-Cable FR350A & Hitachi NR90AEPR Framing Nailers.
Porter-Cable FR350A & Hitachi NR90AEPR Framing Nailers.

Roofing Nailers

  • This generally uses shorter nails with larger heads, and can also be used for siding and similar materials as well.
  • The nails usually come on a coil.
  • These models also offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

Bostitch RN46 & Milwaukee 7120-21 Roofing nailers
Bostitch RN46 & Milwaukee 7120-21 Roofing nailers

Flooring Nailers

  • These are specially designed to make laying tongue-and-groove floor boards simple and fast.
  • You won’t have to wear out your knees. You simply hold the nailer against the edge of the board and a moderate whack on the plunger with the nylon mallet, and the nail is in, at the right angle and the right depth, every time.

Ramsond RMM4 & Bostitch MIIIFN Flooring nailers
Ramsond RMM4 & Bostitch MIIIFN Flooring nailers

Finishing Nailers

  • The finishing nailer is your best all-around nailer for indoor trim and similar jobs.
  • This uses shorter, lighter gauge nails, usually 14 to 16 gauge, 1” to 2½” nails.
  • This is used for mouldings around windows and doors, baseboards, chair rails and such, as well as cabinet making.
  • Finishing nailers are available both as air compression and as cordless nailers.
  • All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

Hitachi NT65MA2 & DeWALT DC628K XRP Finishing nailers
Hitachi NT65MA2 & DeWALT DC628K XRP Finishing nailers

Brad Nailers

  • A lighter duty nailer is a brad nailer for 18-gauge nails, 5/8” to 2”.
  • Brad nailers differ from the finishing nailers mostly by the fact that the nail magazine is not angled as with finishing and framing nailers.
  • The brad nailer is usually used for smaller wood projects, upholstery, and other such precision work.
  • While the brads are small and leave a fairly tiny hole to fill, they hold really well.
  • As with most nailers these days, all these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

DEWALT DC608K & Porter-Cable BN200B Brad nailers
DEWALT DC608K & Porter-Cable BN200B Brad nailers

About Cordless Nailers

  • The cordless nailers are currently more expensive than the pneumatic models, but of course they don’t require that you have a compressor or a hose to deal with.
  • Some cordless nailers use a fuel cell for nail propulsion, which needs to be replaced every 500 nails though, so you have to take that cost into account.
  • The battery-charged models don’t have such a requirement.
  • The cordless, use-it-anywhere aspect is the real selling feature here, much like cordless drills have freed up the necessity of a power cord.

A Word About Safety

Any tool can be dangerous in the wrong hands. This is especially so for power tools. While nail guns have been designed to not fire unless the pressure tip is first pressed against the work, you can still accidentally tap it against something if you’re pressing the trigger as well (see dual-contact firing, just below).

Be alert at all times...please.

That pretty much nails it…

While nail guns (or nailers) have been around for about 25 years, many refinements have been made. Newer materials like magnesium and aluminum alloys have made the tools lighter. Plus more attention has been paid to ergonomic design, so that the tool is properly balanced and easier to grip. Adjusting the firing method no longer requires a special tool. Adjusting the depth of the nail no longer requires adjusting the air compressor.

Cordless models which don’t require a compressor, and therefore a hose are now widely available. Whether you’re a professional contractor or a DIY homeowner, you’ll find you get the job done in less than half the time it would have taken with a hammer and nails.

Many of these nailers could pay for themselves in no time.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • What kind of cordless nail gun can switch between framing and finishing nails?

    To the best of my knowledge and research, you can't do such a thing.

    The shortest nails you can use with a framing nailer are about 2 3/8", and the longest nails for a finishing nailer are about 2". So you couldn't use the same nails in either type of gun.

    The framing nailer is also designed to fire nails with a sizeable head on them, whereas the finishing nails are fairly 'headless.'

    In other words, these nailers are both purpose-built, with no cross-over compatibilities.

  • I want to install pine paneling measuring 5/16"x 3-1/2"x 8', over a Gyproc wall. What gun and nail size is best for this installation?

    Unfortunately, Gyproc is probably not solid enough to hold the nails. You could try it, but the nails may loosen over time. If you choose to go this route or use my next suggestion, a finishing nailer with 1-1/4" nails would do the job.

    Alternatively, you could use 1x3 strapping horizontally, spacing them every 12 to 16", over the Gyproc, making sure they are screwed into the studs behind. Then attach the panels with the nailer at the strapping points.

    Your other option is to use adhesive caulking (LePage's PL200 or equivalent) to apply the panels directly to the Gyproc wall. If the wall is in good shape and smooth, it should hold quite well.

  • I'm making blanket ladders using 2x3's. Would a ramset work for that or should I get a finishing nailer? It calls for 2.5 " nails.

    Most blanket ladders I've seen have 3 to 5 rungs. Depending how many ladders you're making, it may be just as easy to use 3 inch wood screws. Nailers are only a time-saver if you've got 100 or more nails to do. Finishing nails aren't going to hold 2x3's as solidly as either a framing nailer or regular 3" #8 wood screws.

    It also depends whether you want the screws or nails to be visible or not. You might also consider using wood plugs over the screw holes, which adds to the rustic look of the blanket ladder as well.

  • I am not seeing anything about a 'fence' nailer on Amazon. Is the tool in this article more of a 'framing nailer' which can be used for fencing?

    For fence boards, I usually use a finishing nailer, and nails with a small head or something like siding nails like these:


    The framing nailer in your Amazon link would be a bit of overkill for fence boards, I would say unless they were fairly thick.

  • I'm going to build a shed and will buy a framing nailer to build the floor, walls, and rafters, and to attach OSB. But what about the siding and roofing, can I use the types of nails for siding and roofing in a framing nailer? Or will I just need to break out the ol' hammer to complete the siding and roofing on my shed?

    Most framing nailers have a minimum fastener (nail) length of 2". Whereas, roofing nails are typically 1 1/4". You could probably rent a roofing nailer if you're just doing a shed.

    Here's a useful page about correct roofing installation, from the shingle manufacturer, IKO: https://www.iko.be/en/blog/proper-nailing-essentia...

    Siding nails require a smaller head than roofing nails, so you'll have to check with your local building center to see what's available for the roofing nailer you're going to use.

© 2011 Tim Nichol

Your comments are welcome...

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Linda Adkins 

      11 months ago

      What kind of nailer and what size nails should be used to install 2x4 shelving that will eventually hold a brick collection? No, I'm not kidding. The shelves will fill a space of about 3 feet between the studs of an outbuilding. Thanks so much for your help.

    • timorous profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Nichol 

      17 months ago from Me to You

      Not sure what a pin nailer is. A brad nailer is a lighter duty nailer, intended for upholstery and such.

      For thinner plywood or panelling and baseboard, use a finishing nailer, and nails that are about 3 times as long as the total thickness of the plywood and baseboard.

      In other words, the nails should penetrate the 2x4's by about an inch or so.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      What is the difference between a Pin nailer, Brad nailer, and a Finish nailer? Which is preferable to attach baseboard, and also plywood to 2x4 not covered by sheetrock?

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      i have weak hands and need a lite nailer for some moulding and real wood paneling and other crafts like picture frames and such like hanging stuff on the wall (my new she shed) mostly little stuff is there one tool for me that's electric with a cord or do I need to buy more than one (hope not) thanks for your site good read.

    • timorous profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Nichol 

      19 months ago from Me to You

      Oh man... Nature can be so cruel sometimes..I feel for you.

      I'm assuming you've made sure the studs are all completely dried out and free of mold residue.

      A finishing nailer will do the job. You'll want to use heavier nails for the casing (16 gauge), although screws would be better here, as this allows some adjustment of shims to get the casing levelled.

      It's very important to get all the casing perfectly level on the face and edge, otherwise you won't get the door to hang properly.

      You should use smaller nails for the trim.

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      Our home’s first floor was flooded following hurricane Florence (44 inches of water). Our home was stripped down to the studs. I am getting ready to install the interrior doors (casing, trim, the whole 9 yards), what type of nailer do you recommend for this install?

    • timorous profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Nichol 

      20 months ago from Me to You

      In spite of the awkward wording, I'll take a stab at it.

      You're looking for a flooring nailer, which fires the nail at an angle, through the tongue of the flooring..thus hiding (secret nailing) the nail when the piece next to it is installed.

      Most of these flooring nailers use compressed air, not gas. Although air is of course a gas..

    • profile image

      Sam Greenfield 

      20 months ago

      Hi i fit alot of solid and engineering wood flooring and wanted to invest in a good gas gun for secret nailing what would be best

    • timorous profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Nichol 

      21 months ago from Me to You

      Check the model number of the nail gun you purchased, then go to the manufacturer's website and search for a user guide for that model.

      They are also likely to have various tips on how to use the nail gun.

      Yes, you will need a compressor and hose, and the right type of nails for the gun and the job. Your local building center can help you out.

      Best of luck :)

    • profile image

      Cindy Harr 

      21 months ago

      Just bought Used one .... Know Nothing except I was told you can install durrock with roofing nails --- Shall I have any Concerns !! Sounds like air compressor is needed!! Tubes are most likly Bad . I read last only about 500 nails . Ugh !! I don't have clue how to check it out ...!!!??????

    • profile image

      Joel Sanders 

      2 years ago

      Indeed, this is very helpful. I was searching all over for some helpful steps of how to use a nail gun safety and properly. I bought three nail guns from different sites online in bunnings. www.hornibrooks.com.au and lowes and glad they assisted me. Thanks for sharing this! Great job!

    • profile image

      Jim C 

      2 years ago

      Thanks very helpful.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      "Can you just buy a one certain nail gun like a finishing nail gun but change the nails like if you wanted to frame instead of buying all the different types?????"

      In short, no, - different brads, pins and nails for each gun. This video explains: https://youtu.be/afFKY7iazBw?t=40s

    • timorous profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Nichol 

      3 years ago from Me to You

      Hi Lacreatia; To answer your question..no, not really. A framing nailer uses much thicker and longer nails, and is more powerful. It's built for the purpose, just like the other nailers.

      Within the same brand, you may get away with the small overlap in nail sizes between a brad nailer and finishing nailer, but in general they are purpose-built, and the nail magazines are not interchangeable between different type nailers.

      A finishing nailer is a good all-round device, as long as you're not doing fine upholstery on the one hand, or building a house on the other. A one-size-fits-all nailer would be a compromise, and a lot less efficient, I suspect.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Can you just buy a one certain nail gun like a finishing nail gun but change the nails like if you wanted to frame instead of buying all the different types?????

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      ITW appears be ofrnfeieg this tool under both their Duo-Fast and Paslode brands. Unfortunately both seem not to be up to bump firing (maybe too much to ask for a cordless roof nailer). I guess the target application is for small jobs but for small jobs often as not we just pull out boxes of nails and a hammer

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Your articles are for when it abstuloely, positively, needs to be understood overnight.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Oh my goodness! an amazing article dude. Thanks Nonetheless I am experiencing issue with ur rss . Don't know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx agcdeaegkece

    • timorous profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Nichol 

      8 years ago from Me to You

      Flooring nailers are generally about $100 more, mostly because of the added complexity of a plunger mechanism. Of course the top brand names cost more, but they're generally of a higher quality than the house brands at some hardware stores. Hope that helps.

    • timorous profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Nichol 

      9 years ago from Me to You

      Oh..you can still yell..but it will be more of a 'eureka' moment, when realizing how much work you are saving. Not to mention the bruised fingernail...

      Thanks for checking out the article, sofs. Cheers.

    • sofs profile image


      9 years ago

      Ha! now you don't have to yell after hammering your finger with a nail I suppose and no more black nails . Good one Tim, may be I will look it up!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)